Exchange Matters / November 1, 2018

Faces of Exchange Stories

Global Ties U.S. launched the ‘Faces of Exchange’ social media campaign in fall 2018. The campaign offers a 360 degree view of International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other exchanges to provide a behind-the-scenes look at all partners and aspects involved in an exchange. From local volunteers and home stay hosts, to program officers and liaisons, we want to hear your exchange story. For more information regarding the campaign, click here and submit your story below.

Long story short, I was offered the position a few days after I returned to home to Seattle and had a week to pack up and move across the country. Today, just over a year after sitting in on my first program opening in DC, I am just as inspired (if not more) by every single participant and stakeholder involved in making the IVLP come together as I was then. Thanks to working on the IVLP, I went from not knowing what I wanted to do professionally to finding a career in diplomacy.”

—Uma Trivede, Assistant Program Officer, IVLP, Cultural Vistas


“Despite discovering my love for learning new languages and cultures in middle school, I was always too much of a homebody to join my classmates on school trips abroad. At 16, I finally got up the nerve to go to France for a three-week homestay immersion program to discover the culture I’d only read about in textbooks. It’s cliché, but that trip truly changed my life. Twelve-year-old me was too nervous to take a weeklong trip to Italy with a bunch of friends. Ten years later, after studying abroad twice in college, I packed two suitcases and moved to France alone to teach English for a year. My experiences abroad put me on a path to personal, academic, and professional development I’d never considered before. I am currently finishing my master’s degree in global communication and plan to pursue a career providing teenagers with similar life-changing experiences through coordinating and leading international youth exchange programs.”

—Christian Caudill, Events Intern, Global Ties U.S.

“When I was 16, I left my hometown in California for Esbjerg, Denmark for the fall semester of my junior year of high school. Adapting to so many changes was tough. I struggled with the language and was very homesick. But my classmates and teachers were some of the most fascinating, impressive and lovely people I had ever met. They were sharply in touch with the world. It was 1994 and the United States was tightly engaged with a Europe under massive transition from the Cold War. I knew so little about the world and America’s role in it; it felt at times like my Danish friends knew more about my country than I did.

I realized there that relationships and belief systems create the foundation for foreign affairs, and I decided that I wanted to study international relations. My conviction that exchange programs are indispensable to the conduct of world affairs and the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy began in Esbjerg. I’m fortunate now to work in a job that helps forge these relationships, and to know from my own personal experience that they matter deeply.”

—Katherine Brown, President and CEO of Global Ties U.S.

Photo credit: Claire Regan

“Being selected as a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow was a blessing for me because I was born in the fabled desert city of Timbuktu, Mali. For most people, Timbuktu is the end of the world. But for me it’s the beginning of the world where a brilliant future is possible.

I applied for the fellowship track of civic leadership and was assigned to Wagner College in Staten Island, NY one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. I attended lectures, academic sessions, and interacted with professors, mentors, host families, and other Mandela Fellows. With the group discussions and other team activities, I realized the importance of allowing different ideas on table, and learned how to become an effective and thoughtful leader. The fellowship was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Being amongst different leaders who have different cultural background, religion, and language, we came together to achieve one goal: to bring impact to African communities.”

—Mahamane Djitteye, 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, CEO of Timbuktu : Land of Peace and Culture

“I have been working with international exchange groups for over 18 years. It has been a wonderful experience knowing that we provide transportation for people from all over the world coming to visit the USA to learn more about our country and vice versa. Meeting personally with some groups over the years and speaking with them has been a great experience. I enjoy overseeing their transportation in the DC area and making sure that they have a comfortable, safe and reliable time in our vehicles.

Many times I get pictures from groups with the drivers because they enjoyed the service and liked the vehicles we provided them. I think it is very valuable sharing ideas and speaking with people from all over the world, it gives us different cultural perspectives and views that we would not otherwise get. I hope the future of international education expands, I think with these exchanges we can bring together a more understanding and peaceful world.”

—Salim Haddad, Transportation Contractor, Awards Limousine Service

“I have been engaged with international exchange since the age of 7. My family moved from Mali, West Africa to Liberia, and I was privileged to attend the Lycée Français. It was transformative given its strong emphasis on liberal arts education and the fact that I was exposed at such a young age to people from around the world. I understood early on the importance of culture, people, places, and education.

This early exposure to international education then led to living in the U.S., Kenya, Rwanda, and Senegal, attending various educational systems. A moment that stands most in my mind was studying at American University and forging life-long friendships that extend to many continents and borders. These encounters have shaped my worldview and my thirst for learning about cultures.”

—Fanta Aw, Vice President of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence and Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer, American University


“Since 2003 I have been working as an Arabic-English interpreter on International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and similar exchange and training programs. The moment that strikes me every time – personally and professionally – is when we have our closing session and the participants share the life-changing impact their exchange program has had on them. This makes me categorically believe in the importance of international educational programs. It is vital for all people to have an opportunity to meet face-to-face so they can exchange their expertise, professional experiences, and life stories. It is during these interactions that we discover how we are so similar, regardless of our nationality, race, religion, and gender.

It is imperative to preserve and expand international education programs, and share our stories with the policy and decision makers. I am hopeful to see more faces of exchange.”

—Moataz Elshehawy, Arabic-English Interpreter, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Photo credit: Steve White

“Over the course of the last decade, and more recently as the founder of The Basketball Embassy (TBE), I have participated in and facilitated numerous international exchanges across the globe. Traveling to southeastern Turkey during my first trip overseas opened my eyes to distinct cultural diversities as well as transcendent human characteristics. I fell more in love with people and the collection of their beautiful differences. By synthesizing that newfound love with a life-long adoration for basketball, TBE was born.

One of my most meaningful experiences was the 2014 Camp Pass It On project, which featured youth and young adult participants from over 115 countries in a 10-day cultural exchange through basketball. As head coach of the event, I had the honor and privilege of emulating a good ambassador of the game, and of humanity as a whole. While forces outside of diplomacy continue to focus on what differentiates communities from one another, I truly believe that international education and exchanges can showcase our similarities and help us take steps toward unity.”

—Chris Dial, President and Founder, The Basketball Embassy

“Global perspectives shaped my life and path to working with exchange programs. My great-grandma Anne was my first family member to immigrate from Norway as a brave, independent 17-year-old. I admire her courage and like to think I inherited her adventurous spirit. Growing up, some of my best childhood friends came from Korea and families who were Indian and Pakistani. Through them, I developed interests in learning about other cultures, lifestyles, traditions, and became a lover of all varieties of Asian foods. After studying abroad on a high school summer trip to Spain, followed by international study travels during undergrad to Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean, my fate as a wanderluster was sealed. I pursued legal ambitions with a law degree and military work in the JAG Corps, though my passions lie in learning about the world and its people.

Fortunately, I discovered a way to combine work and passion through exchange programs, first as a programmer and now an International Visitor Liaison. Each day, I learn something new about the world through the inspiring International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange participants I meet from all over the globe. What a dream to continually embrace world travel, childhood curiosities, international friendships, lifelong learning, and my inner adventurer. The world feels like a more exciting place every day!”

—Cassandra McGuiness, International Visitor Liaison, Exchange Programs – U.S. Department of State


“During my childhood summers, my family would travel back to our family home in Innsbruck, Austria. I remember kicking the soccer ball at the garage or going to the public pool. I would look around and see the Olympic ski jump as I was playing. We drove as a family each summer around Austria, Italy, and France. I have relatives from Germany, Austria, and Britain. Looking to those experiences, it truly made me think when I was older that there is so much diversity in who each person is and can be, but really all those “differences” only bring us closer together and allowed me to truly listen to all perspectives.

When I had the opportunity following school to actually live out my dream to work in an international organization, which was the World Affairs Council, I felt I had truly found another home. Every day I get to learn something new about the world. Every day I am able to talk with people from different cultures. Every day I am thankful that this world is diverse and I can give back through helping my community think more globally.”

—Michelle Harpenau, Executive Director, World Affairs Council – Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky

“When I finally made it to Sevilla, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I was living with a host family, taking all my classes in Spanish, and becoming truly immersed in a language that was still so new to me – it was absolutely terrifying. However, over 2 months later, my exchange experience with CIEE has been nothing short of life-changing.

There wasn’t one sole moment where I knew I had made the right decision. It could’ve been when I went to a Sevilla FC soccer game and was chanting the victory song with over 43,000 fans. It could’ve been when my host mom started taking English classes and wanted to practice her numbers with me. It could’ve been when I started building confidence in my language abilities and could chat and joke with the waiters at our neighborhood cafe, El Pelícano.

I have been lucky enough to have seen the world of exchanges from multiple points of view. Yet the most important lesson I have learned is that it is not enough to just see the world; you have to experience it.”

—Elizabeth Georgakopoulos, former Global Ties U.S. communications intern and current CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange study abroad participant

“International travel has been at the top of my hobbies list since I was a teenager, travelling to South America as a Rotary exchange student. The time I’ve spent making friends from different cultures, seeing the beauty of the world, and learning that I can find home just about anywhere has been the single most transformative experience of my life.

That said, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work in #InternationalExchange, planning homestays, cultural experiences, and professional exchanges for others that I really found my calling. Through my position as the Executive Director of Global Ties KC, I serve as a local host, and get to watch other people experience those same transformative experiences, over and over again. On a weekly basis, I am able to see people’s perspectives and understanding of the United States shift, as they explore new cities, and make their own new friends.

Even more inspiring, I get to see the ripple effects that these programs have on individuals and communities across Kansas City. For locals who don’t have the same opportunities to travel, being able to host an international leader in their home, classroom, or place of business can be a revolutionary experience. We really are creating #ChangeThroughExchange.”

—Courtney Brooks, Executive Director of Global Ties KC

“Becoming involved with the IVLP was like finding a missing puzzle piece. When I was 17-years-old I had a Spanish teacher who took time every week to talk about current global events. This quickly became my favorite class. This is where I learned to value the sharing of information and stories across oceans and cultures.

When I went to college, I chose to study what had caught my attention: international relations. I learned about global issues and human rights; I studied international development in Ecuador; I worked with non-profits in my hometown on civil rights. In all of these environments I noticed a common frustration: a lack of education on universal issues.

When I came across an internship with Global Minnesota, I saw an opportunity to be involved with something I knew would have a lasting impact. My experience working with the IVLP has given me clarity in what direction I want to go as I graduate college.”

—Allie Handberg, Professional Exchanges Intern with Global Minnesota

“I love how exchanges systematically go beyond my expectations. Living abroad fosters open-mindedness, curiosity and genuine interest in others like nothing else does.

Growing up in different countries as a child, I always knew I wanted to work in an international environment and the incredible Erasmus year I spent in Germany only reinforced this wish.

Working at One To World here in New York City and helping to provide opportunities for international students to make such meaningful connections with Americans and really engage with local communities is truly priceless.

Every program we organize is like planting a seed in each person involved. Not only do I have no doubts that these will grow far beyond one might imagine, but I am also deeply convinced that these will help foster a more open, kind and understanding society.”

—Romane Berti, an Enrichment Programs Global Fellow at One To World

Photo credit: Ali Cox

“As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), I taught English, art, Model UN, and physical education at a bilingual secondary school in Madrid, Spain. I created a program that incorporated comparative American and Spanish art history, and English, into the daily classroom experience. My students discussed artists and analyzed works from Robert Motherwell to Joan Miró, and shared ideas between artists from both United States and Spanish cultures. In my English classes, I was able to teach English by integrating American cultural and literary lessons. I taught my students about a wide range of topics from American politics to the transcendentalist literary movement. I also taught Model UN (Global Classrooms) and had the opportunity to take 10 of my students to a Model UN conference with other schools in Madrid, expanding their world view as well as mine.

My Fulbright ETA experience afforded me the chance to learn how to do things outside of my comfort zone and enriched my ability to immerse myself in a culture and understand cultures that are different than my own. It also allowed me deeper reflection on themes of class, race, and privilege, and the opportunity to encourage reflection on those themes in my students and through a multicultural lens. Most importantly, my Fulbright year allowed me to deepen my understanding of a different culture, share my own traditions with those that I met, and consider just how much we all have in common.”

—Jenna Reynolds, The Fulbright Program Scholar

“From Washington DC, to Sacramento, CA, Cleveland, OH, Boston, MA, and finally the City of Dreams, New York City, I journeyed across the United States as an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participant to learn about U.S. Higher Education and Graduate Admission.

It was a unique opportunity which taught me a lot about the culture of this great country, the wonderful cities, valued museums, prestigious universities, friendly people, and democratic system of government.

I returned, enthusiastically, to my country to share the knowledge and information that I gained through my participation in the program. I have a lot of gratitude to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad who give me this chance, changed a lot of things in my life, and opened a bright future.”

—Hassanien Hassan, IVLP Participant

“International exchanges have shaped my life from an early age. Visiting another country during grade school, hosting an exchange student, and then being hosted by their family in return, was memorable.

But what affected me the most was my AuPair experience in 2001/2002. Coming to the U.S. at age 18, fresh out of high school and with the world at my finger tips, I wanted nothing more than to experience the American way of life. Over the course of a year, I made friendships that are lasting to this day. Many people I met during that year were generous with their hospitality and kindness, their interest in my family and culture, and their willingness to share theirs.

Professionally, I have chosen a career that allows me to give back. Today, I am helping organizations implement exchange programs so that other individuals can have an impactful exchange experience. Exchanges bring the world together, and I am glad I play a small part in that process.”

—Franzi Rook, Senior Program Manager of Member Education, Global Ties U.S.

“I first hosted IVLP guests as a citizen diplomat for dinner on my birthday. It became the birthday gift of a lifetime, and the best volunteer effort I’ve ever joined. It has broadened my knowledge of successes and challenges worldwide, helped me connect with people from different cultures in America, led to high-profile professional contacts, and provided invaluable friendships.

Some of these amazing people have hosted me in their countries. I have shadowed their work, been invited for speaking engagements, become a customer of their businesses, received unparalleled insight and access to their homelands, and befriended their friends and families. Some bonds have become quite special.

I met this Indonesian group in 2013 at UCLA, my alma mater. Afterwards, they desired Indonesian food. I referred them to a place; they invited me to join. Although not an official hosting engagement, I paid for their meals to show my gratitude for the invitation. They invited me to Indonesia, and later that year, nearly the entire group took turns hosting me for a week. We’ve kept in touch, and with one family, we’ve met again in Indonesia and America over the years. This year, I attended the wedding of a sister within this family. Such an incredible and touching experience.”

—Carlos Collard, Volunteer, International Visitors Council of Los Angeles

“Ever since I moved to the United States from Japan, I’ve fallen in love with its diversity. International education became my passion and eventually my career, because I found the beauty in a mutual understanding among people no matter where we come from and how different our beliefs and values are. I enjoy making friends from all across the world, and through these friendships, I learn deeply about different cultures and gain new worldviews.

Today, I feel even more obligated to promote international education as the world is going through a very challenging time. I believe in the power of intercultural exchange to strengthen relationships between people in a more personal and intimate level. With these relationships, we can work together to make the world more peaceful.”

—Konoka Shiino, Membership and Programs Intern, One To World

“I have been a volunteer driver for [Global Minnesota’s exchange programs] for the past 15 years. Last year, our close friends Linda and Steve Eliason, and my wife Ruth and I, shared a Home Hospitality visit for four Iraqi journalists. It was mid-August 2018, and the four of us hosted the four journalists and their excellent interpreter at the Eliason home. Shortly after introductions on that hot August evening, one guest inquired about the air conditioning in the house and, much to our surprise, desired to see it. Why not?

So, despite Steve’s hesitation and chagrin, the six of us traipsed down to the lower level and received an explanation of the Eliason HVAC system. While down there we passed Steve’s ham radio equipment room. The old equipment intrigued the seasoned reporter guests who have an interest in “old radio stuff.” Dinner was delayed as we considered the bygone radio era in that crowded, smallish room. But we bonded!! It was wonderful.

Our talks at dinner varied from home-life and families to world affairs, politics, journalism, life stories, and more. Our 3 1/2 hour visit was too short. We probably won’t see our guests again, but to know we have kindred spirits halfway around the world is a comforting thought.”

—Al Carp, Global Minnesota volunteer